Coconut Chicken Soup

Story by Holly
Coconut Chicken Soup
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It's safe to say we all have a short list of meals that have a made a lasting impression on us for some reason or another. Maybe it's the unique flavor of the dish that stands out, the memories associated with a time you ate it, or the people who introduced it to you and shared it with you. Tom Kha Gai (a Thai restaurant mainstay) is one of those dishes for me, for all of the above reasons. I first tasted this piquant soup from a little joint on Queen Anne Hill, a neighborhood in Seattle. I was a young nanny at the time for the most darling children, and there was a lot I had yet to discover in the food world. I am grateful to the family I was working for who played a large part in opening my eyes to the wonders of Thai food and this soup specifically. It became the first dish I have vivid memories of craving, a first notch in what has become a very long culinary belt (metaphorically, most of the time!). There is just something divine about the way the flavors of this soup mingle together, and it's also a wonderful excuse to get out of your comfort zone and try some ingredients you might not be familiar with.

Soup is one of those meals that easily feeds a crowd and it’s an amazing gesture of hospitality to invite some friends over, pull out a stack of bowls and spoons and enjoy one another’s company.

Coconut Chicken Soup

We encourage you to visit an Asian specialty store where you can explore unique ingredients to make this dish extra special. Although you should be able to find all the ingredients we've listed for this version of Tom Kha Gai at your neighborhood market, you can easily take it to the next level by subbing kaffir lime leaves for the lime zest, Thai basil for the supermarket variety and galanga root for the ginger. The soup will be delicious either way, but it's so fun to cook with new ingredients! Have fun playing around with the flavors and be adventurous.

Soup is one of those meals that easily feeds a crowd and it’s an amazing gesture of hospitality to invite some friends over, pull out a stack of bowls and spoons and enjoy one another’s company. If a large crowd isn't in the cards for the night you serve this Tom Kha Gai, no worries, the result will be a delicious and soothing lunch or dinner or both in the days to follow (in my husband’s words “multiple nights of leftover greatness”).

Coconut Chicken Soup

This TMP version of Tom Kha Gai, is the result of many years of trial and error and is the closest I have come to anything as rich and beautifully balanced as the soup I fell in love with so long ago. It's simple to make, but complex in flavor, light and soothing, yet punchy, exotic, but still not intimidating to those with more sensitive palates. Another bonus? This recipe can easily be tweaked to comply with a host of special dietary concerns to create a dish that literally everyone you know can enjoy. It embodies comfort in a bowl, and I even have a friend who swears it's the cure to the common cold (no promises, of course, but it works for her!). So go ahead, step out of your comfort zone and have some fun playing with the flavors of this soup. You'll thank us later.

Coconut Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

Serves 4


4 cups chicken stock
1 16 oz can coconut milk
8 thin slices of fresh ginger
2 lemon grass stalks, tough outer portion removed, using only the tender portion, chopped into 2 inch pieces and slightly crushed with the back of a knife
1/2 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 lb chicken, very thinly sliced (this can be easily accomplished if chicken is slightly frozen)
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp red curry paste
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 limes (should equal 1/2 cup or so juiced)
1 tbsp grated lime zest
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
cilli flakes or chili paste (optional)
white rice (optional)


In a large soup pot combine the chicken stock, coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass and onion and bring to a boil. Add the chicken, mushrooms, fish sauce, and sugar, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the chicken is white and firm, about 4 minutes. Add the curry paste, lime juice, lime zest and basil and heat to just below boiling, about 3 minutes. Serve soup with additional basil.